Saturday, August 2, 2014

A Young Dancer's Dilemma--College or Company

For those of you who do not know, before becoming professional with Ballet West, I graduated from Indiana University with a B.S. in Ballet.  I often get questions from young dancers asking my opinion of either going to college or auditioning to get into a company right after high school.  I thought it would be a good idea to put all of your options out on the table and talk through them all.  Hopefully, after reading this, some of you might have a better idea of what will be best for you. 

I applied to colleges my senior year of high school with the eager push of my parents.  After taking so many years off from dancing, both my Father and Mother, thought it would be best that I got my education.  I remember wanting to audition but didn’t fight it too hard.  My dance teacher wasn’t happy about it in the least, as she believed that going to college would end my chances of becoming professional because I would be 23 by the time I graduated.  I wanted to facilitate my chances of being professional so I only applied to schools that offered a very rigorous schedule and a B.S. Degree in Ballet.  If I was going to college for Ballet I wanted to be sure my diploma would also be worth something.  One of the very attractive upsides of going to college for Ballet was that I was able to get a scholarship for school.  I would definitely encourage all of you to try to get as much scholarship money, if you do decide to go to school, as college is very expensive.  So, let us go through options after high school and see where you fit in.  And remember, these are all my opinions, they may or may not work for you.

From High School to a Professional Company
For many dancers who are very passionate about our art form, getting into a Second Company or Company straight out of high school would be ideal.  This means starting your career very young which gives you a lot of time to work up the ranks of the company and could potentially mean a lot of opportunities for many great roles.  Many dancers think school is not for them anyway, so this path would obviously be best for them.  Professionally, the upsides of starting young are very great, as I stated above.  There is a downside, as I see it, as well…You could get burnt out early.  It’s not often, but I have seen many young professional dancers hang up the pointe shoes early because they were burnt out from the lifestyle.  If you do go professional right away, make sure you have other hobbies and friends outside of work so that you stay level headed.

What if you’re offered a Company Traineeship and accepted to College?
Applying to college and auditioning for companies can both be very expensive, but if you are capable of doing both I would most definitely encourage you to do so.  In hindsight, I wish I would have auditioned and applied to school.  I firmly believe that keeping all your options open is the best for anyone in any profession.  It is very hard to get a job these days.  There are a lot of very talented dancers and not enough contracts.  That is why you see many companies have Second Companies and often Pre-Professional Trainee Programs.  If you are accepted into a Trainee program it means the Director could potentially see you in the company but may feel you need more time to mature mentally and physically.  Recently, a dancer asked me what I would do if I were in her pointe shoes (ha, ha! I made joke).  She got accepted into Indiana University’s Ballet Department but was also offered a year round Trainee spot at Boston Ballet.  I told her to take the Traineeship and defer from school, and here is why.  Like I said before, getting a job is very tough now a days.  It seems even harder than it was 7 years ago when I was auditioning.  Getting a Traineeship is a very good chance to be seen by the Director and potentially get hired.  These opportunities do not come around too often.  I did stress to her the importance of deferring a year from Indiana University properly so if it does not work out at Boston Ballet she could slip right back into school the following year without any problems.  I definitely would not throw away your acceptance to school as it is very hard to get accepted to college programs as well.

Go to College while dancing professionally
This option may be the toughest!  Once you become professional the expectation for you to perform well means keeping your contract or not.  Going to school while dancing is hard, but it can be done.  Many dancers at Ballet West are currently doing this very thing!  They take one or two classes a semester working towards a degree.  They often get up before work to attend classes at a University in Salt Lake, or take classes online.  It does get stressful for them to maintain the school work and their jobs especially during performance time.  If you decide to do this expect to be tired as all your free time will mean keeping your nose in your books!

Straight to College
Your last option is to go directly into a college dance program and audition when you graduate.  This is what I did, and I got a job.  With that being said, it can be done, but I stress it is not easy to do.  Companies will be put off by the fact that you are older but have no “professional experience.”  They may not want to offer you a second company spot frankly because they feel you are too old to be there but may not want to take a chance on you for the main company because you have no company experience. In my opinion, this is an ignorant opinion because they may not understand that a great dance program, like IUBT, actually works like a professional company does.  We had the same hours as I have at Ballet West currently and a lot of the same repertoire, too.  On top of that, I was taking academics at 8am and going until 10pm as well.  You leave school very capable to walk straight into a company because you will be equipped to handle a lot of stress, as going to school and dancing is very time consuming and insanely hard and stressful. I struggled with this for a few years when I was an Apprentice at Ballet West at age 24.  I felt I was too mature to be an Apprentice.  Maybe, going to college is what has helped me move through the ranks fairly quickly. They may have been reluctant at first, but it was up to me to prove to them that I was capable of keeping up with my peers even if I started “late.”  That will most definitely be your challenge, as well, if you choose this path.   Now, to add more stress.  I would encourage you to double major if you do go to school.  Having a B.S. in Ballet is good for me because I do want to teach after dancing and having a degree would help me get a job at a college easier if working at a company doesn’t work out or I don’t open my own school.  I started Journalism but could not finish because the classes were during Ballet.  Like I said before, OPTIONS, OPTIONS, OPTIONS! I often consider going back to school anyway because of my passion for Journalism.  It just would have been nice to have gotten that done already, too!

I really hope my advice will help you all out if you come to the college/company crossroads.  Whether you’re a Ballet, Modern or Contemporary dancer there is a college program out there for you, so do your research!  Everyone has a different path and what might work for someone may not work for you.  Make sure you are really thinking about what will be best for you and your future when planning what step to take next!  Good luck!



Photo by Elizabeth McGrath


  1. I love this post! I also went to college and got my BA in Dance Studies before I auditioned for ballet companies. I got multiple contracts and put my degree to good use! There are tons of benefits to majoring in dance/ballet.

  2. I love this post! I also went to college and got my BA in Dance Studies before I auditioned for ballet companies. I got multiple contracts and put my degree to good use! There are tons of benefits in majoring in dance/ballet.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. Hey! I love this post too! My name is Luísa, I'm from Brazil and I'm 16 years old. I'm in the same situation that you said. I would love to go to college to do Ballet and also enter in a company such as Ballet West. But I don't know how can I audition for doing the both. Could you give me some advices? Thanks!

  5. As a rising senior in high school your advice is much appreciated, and your story gives me hope.

  6. This is great for young dancers. No one told me this growing i went to college not knowing the other options. I loved my college experience but wish i had gone the company route sooner . It can be hard to get a job after graduating.